The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) recently announced a partnership with Howard University College of Medicine, along with $11.5 million, with the goal of increasing the scientific capabilities of Historically Black Medical Colleges (HBMCs) in genomics research.
According to the press release, the partnership will allow for the creation of a Master of Science program in Genetic Counseling which is a field responsible for investigating those at risk of genetic disorders. The partnership will also support the recruitment of anchor faculty in genomics, fund tools to continue furthering genomic research and increase research opportunities for students.
HBCUs Charles Drew University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and Morehouse School of Medicine will also receive $11.5 million each through the CZI’s newly launched Accelerate Precision Program for the next five years. CZI is an organization owned by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with the goal of solving societal challenges.
In the previously mentioned press release, Priscilla Chan spoke on the behalf of CZI praising the universities for being assets to their communities and touched on how CZI felt about the partnership.
Chan said, “we are honored to partner with these four institutions that are national leaders and championing some of the most groundbreaking research in precision health. As pillars in their communities, the Historically Black Medical Colleges are also uniquely positioned to engage populations that have been systematically underrepresented in the scientific research process to ensure that the breakthroughs represent a healthier future for everyone.”
President Wayne A.I. Frederick called the program “the latest stride toward fulfilling a key research goal outlined in the Howard Forward strategic plan.” Howard Forward 2024 was announced by Frederick in 2018 as a strategic plan to provide “a quality educational experience and commitment to producing distinguished global leaders.”
The University plans to use its genetic research as a means of collecting resources that will address challenges negatively impacting Black communities, according to Howard’s newsletter The Dig.
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Currently, Howard University has its own Cancer Center located in Howard hospital, as well as a center for Sickle Cell Disease. Frederick, who currently lives with sickle cell disease, spoke about the personal significance of the grant.
“To me, genetics research is more than just an academic pursuit,” Frederick said in the article on The Dig. “As someone with sickle cell anemia, the study of genetics is not abstract. When I was born, people with sickle cell disease were told that they would not live beyond childhood. Today, a child born with sickle cell disease has somewhere around a 99 percent chance of living to adulthood.”
Frederick emphasized Howard’s role in improving these chances, “Those advances didn’t happen by accident: Howard researchers have participated in every clinical trial that has led to FDA-approved medications for sickle cell disease treatment,” he said.
Dr. Bernard Kwabi-Addo is an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the College of Medicine. He can often be found in his office in the Cancer Center, where he serves as the Principal Investigator of Prostate Cancer Research at the center. His lab, however, is located in the Numa P.G. Adams Building on W Street.
Addo’s research focuses on the role of epigenetics in prostate cancer and the disease disparities in African-American communities. His ultimate goal is to understand these disparities in hopes of identifying early detection markers that can aid in prevention and treatment tailored to the genetic needs of Black people.
“Epigenetics plays a very important role in development,” Addo said. “Now we are seeing there is a lot of abnormal epigenetic patterns or events taking place and contributing to cancer.” Addo sees the partnership as a way for the University to build its infrastructure and gain access to cutting-edge technology that oher medical schools have that Howard does not.
“I’m very excited,” Addo says after animatedly explaining the depths of his research. “It’s a great time to be in genomics and it’s a great opportunity to have this initiative and the funds that come with it.”
The Dean of the College of Medicine Hugh E. Mighty did not immediately respond to The Hilltop’s request for comment about the initiative.
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